St. Petersburg Juvenile Diversion Program

Maria Scruggs

By Maria L. Scruggs

Dear Editor,

Last week Mayor Kriseman announced another initiative that has the potential to impact south St. Petersburg. For those of you who didn’t hear, the mayor and Police Chief Anthony Holloway are starting a diversion program for first time juvenile offenders.

This is a very innovative public safety initiative that will certainly have some impact on some youth. As I do with any strategy that has the potential of impacting the African-American community, I view the scale of the proposal and weigh it against the potential social or emotional problem the initiative is created to potentially impact.

Once I have drawn conclusions, I lean unto the word for understanding and guidance. After doing that I find the word of God calls on me to give thanks for all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

So in keeping with the word of the God, I am genuinely thankful that Mayor Kriseman and Chief Holloway had the foresight for launching an initiative that could potentially impact a significant number of African-American youth in south St. Petersburg.

However, those of us who work in the criminal justice system know this program will fill a void and have value for some, but the implementation of such a program is like bringing a sling shot to a gun fight because of the scale and depth of the issues surrounding the incarceration rate of black men and black boys.

In keeping with the word for guidance and understanding, the scriptures also direct us to study for ourselves as evidenced in 2 Timothy 2:15. “Study to show thyself approved unto God!”

When being obedient to the word and attempting to discern whether this program would have a significant impact on black youth, I can only conclude this diversion program will not begin to touch the surface of the broader picture of the disproportionate number of black boys that enter the juvenile justice system in Pinellas County, particularly when you consider the following:

  • In 2005 54.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County, not just St. Petersburg were black children

  • In 2006 55.3 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children

  • In 2007 54.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children

  • In 2008 52.1 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children

  • In 2009 53.5 percent of the children direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County were black children

It is my guess that if I were to cite any socio economic indicators, particular those stats regarding black children being prepared to enter kindergarten in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, my guess is those numbers would mirror those of the percent of black children who are being direct filed to the adult system in Pinellas County.

Therefore, my guess is this initiative on its face will have its greatest impact on the African-American community during re-election time when the mayor and his campaign staff place this program on literature to remind us of what he has done for the black community.

In a 2013 Economic Impact of Poverty report generated by the Department of Health and Human Services, the report correctly draws the following as one of its conclusions: If Pinellas County is to achieve the vision of an acceptable quality of life for all its citizens, the county must focus on quality education in five areas referenced as “at risk zones” in Pinellas County. One of those zones is south St. Petersburg.

As previously mentioned, while I am thankful for the efforts the mayor has launched to date, it is imperative that he begins to approach the socioeconomic issues.

One such strategic approach the mayor may want to consider is by meeting and engaging with independent early childhood education providers in south St. Petersburg. He has the potential to not only impact the issue of “quality early childhood education” in south St. Petersburg, but he has the potential to launch strategic support for independent childcare providers as an economic development strategy.

It is always my hope that maybe this time we have elected a mayor who may want to do more than just get elected. I hope we have elected a mayor who is really interested in leaving a legacy of relevance in the black community!

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